Nate Mercereau’s Ode to Joy

The multi-instrumentalist and onetime S.F. musician returns to the city for album release party this Saturday, July 20.

As a versatile writer and producer who has worked with pop stars like Lizzo and Shawn Mendes and jazz musicians such as Terrace Martin, Nate Mercereau is a constant source of divergent musical ideas, motifs and sounds. 

While selflessly availing himself to others, one would assume that the guitar specialist would get greedy eventually, hoarding catchy riffs or memorable hooks for himself. But that’s not how the Angeleno operates.

“I don’t like to be too precious with my ideas — when I’m working with others, I’m not the one to stop the flow and be like, ‘This is mine, you can’t have it,’ ” Mercereau says. “It’s more that some music just reveals itself as particular pieces that are unique to me. I’m not putting it aside for myself, so much as it just becomes clear that it works best for me.”

That process of revelations has led to Mercereau’s debut album, Joy Techniques, a dizzying array of post-rock, jazz, avant-garde and hip-hop influenced instrumental selections that showcases his tremendous range as a musician. Mercereau — who lived in San Francisco for eight years before moving to L.A. — will host his album release party at Amnesia on Saturday, July 20.

Although one could make the case the Joy Techniques is a jazz album, the record is really post-genre, with moods, textures and melodies shifting seamlessly from song to song. “Righteous Energy,” has the mellow vibe of a smoky jazz club trio, “There You Are,” is a swaggering funk track and album opener “The Simulation Is A Good One” is a buoyant, upbeat neo-soul recording. The album closer, a towering, epic piece called “See God, Bare Your Soul, Ascend Straight to Heaven,” is a cacophonous noise-rock number, evoking Canadian wizards Godspeed You Black Emperor, although it contains just enough outrageous guitar histrionics to keep it from becoming too self-serious.

Mercereau wrote the entire album himself (he does share credits with Martin on the title track), and on some of the selections, he’s responsible for playing as many as seven different instruments, ranging from guitar to French horn and violin. He said that layering all those diffuse sounds together was not difficult—the real challenge was knowing when to scale back 

“My problem is finding the stopping point — like when is a song done,” said Mercereau. “I kept pushing forward and moving boundaries, but at a certain point you have to say ‘okay, it’s done, there is going to be a next record where I can explore that idea.”

Because of their dense nature, the songs lend themselves to being interpreted liberally in a live setting, Mercereau said. At Amnesia, he will be joined by keyboardist Dave Jackson, who will be replicating the modulated guitar and bass sounds from the record, (although the album feels heavily atmospheric, no synths were used in the recording) and drummer Corey Baum. Both musicians are local products who played frequently with Mercereau when he lived in San Francisco. 

“We’ll be able to get inside each song and improvise within its context,” said Mercereau. “It will sound like the record, in a way, but within those songs, we are going to really lift off and improvise.”

While he sang as part of his San Francisco-based project, A Million, Billion Dying Suns, Mercereau said he didn’t think that putting vocals to his solo tracks would add anything really meaningful to the sound. Instead, he put his focus on his guitar and in conjuring specific feelings for each track, with the end goal of creating elation for the listener.

“The album title is pretty literal for me,” said Mercereau. “We use these songs as vehicles to explore that joy of creation.”

And really, that last quote is an apt summation of Mercereau’s musical aims. As someone who has graciously shared his most profound musical offerings for the last several years, it makes sense that bringing joy tops his list of priorities 

Nate Mercereau, with ZOLA and studio_dad, Saturday, July 20, at Amnesia, 853 Valencia St. $8; tickets here.

 

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